Word games have garnered the spotlight lately, largely thanks to the explosive popularity of Words with Friends, so it’s natural to expect to see a flood of me-too and wannabe games hitting the App Store. So far, none of them are like Quarrel. Available in two flavors– the basic free version and the $5 Deluxe edition– Quarrel is a masterfully creative combination of Scrabble and Risk.
Mixing word smithing with land conquering might seem like an odd formula, but it works amazingly well. Quarrel matches take place on relatively small maps divided into smaller territories, and support up to four competitors. Each side picks a specific tribe– ranging from cavemen and ninjas to robots and aliens– and the board is divided up among the players.
The game randomly decides the order of the players, and then it’s off to spelling warfare. Each space can have between one and six units on it. The overall strategy in Quarrel is keeping your troop levels up in vulnerable areas while taking advantage of an enemy’s weakness. Tap on one of your territories and then an adjoining enemy’s space and the game shifts to the word battle screen.
You’re outnumbered, Biff.
The battle screen shows the troops of both sides, and your eight-letter selection at the bottom of the screen. Each letter is worth a certain amount of points, just like in Scrabble. The crux of these battles is that your word length is limited by the amount of units you have on that territory. So if there are only three soldiers on a square, you can only spell a three-letter word.
This facet of the game makes it imperative to use your turn wisely. It’s entirely possible to attack multiple territories during a turn, but this is a sure strategy for defeat. Since winning a new square only leaves one soldier there after the battle, using an action to transfer troops from a more populated adjoining square to the new conquest is vital. New troops are supplied between turns as well, and the game manages to keep up surprising momentum and challenge.
When the other players are battling each other, you won’t be twiddling your thumbs. During these moments, you’ll have the opportunity to earn extra points by spelling a word based on their available letters (which are randomly determined each battle). The ultimate goal is to use all eight letters by spelling an anagram for massive point and personal pride value.
Conquer that territory.
Quarrel’s visuals have a fantastic looking, cartoonish quality, full of bright primary colors and humorous touches. The landscapes are just detailed enough, but still simplistic overall, and the characters are detailed and fun to watch. The animated player icons are expressive as well, and react to the action on the screen. The free version only sports a few competitors to select from and one backdrop. The Deluxe version offers a wide variety of AI players and an expansive collection of maps to battle on.
The tutorial is lengthy, if dogged in its insistence that you spell only the word it instructs you to, but is worth going through once. The AI players are skilled and varied– allowing players to adjust the game to their desired challenge level– and Quarrel does a good job of making these competitors seem realistic. They’ll make mistakes, attack each other, and their expressive animation adds to their authenticity.
That said, as great a game as Quarrel is, it has one huge oversight. There’s no multiplayer whatsoever. For a game so completely suited for both pass-around and online play in a genre geared toward multiplayer, this is a major shortcoming. As it is, Quarrel is a superb, creative, and expertly designed and presented game. It’s fun, smart, and offers tons of challenge, but without the ability to play against other humans it’s still one step shy of being a true classic.